Is a reduction of hours a good reason to quit?

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled today that employees whose hours are reduced by employers do not have to complain about the reductions in order to qualify for unemployment benefits when they quit.

The Court reversed a decision by an unemployment law judge that Shouna Thao could not collect unemployment because she failed to give her employer an opportunity to return her to full-time status.

In Minnesota, people who quit are generally not eligible for unemployment benefits, but an exception is made for “adverse working conditions” if the employee calls the conditions to the attention of the employer.

But the Court of Appeals said the “terms” of someone’s employment and the “conditions” of employment are not the same thing.

As usual in these sorts of cases, the decision came down to trying to understand what the Legislature intended. In 2004, the Legislature removed “a substantial adverse change in the wages, hours, or other terms of employment by the employer” in the definition of good reasons to quit and replaced it with “a reason for quitting employment shall not be considered a good reason caused by the employer for quitting if the reason for quitting occurred because of the applicant’s employment misconduct.”

But the court said the Legislature never intended to remove a loss of hours from the reasons to quit that would qualify for unemployment benefits.

It sent the case back to the unemployment law judge for a decision, and invited the Legislature to revisit the issue.

Here’s the decision.

  • Xopher

    Going forward, would this make an employer more likely to, for example, terminate a couple marginally performing employees rather than trim the hours of all employees equally during slow business periods?

  • BJ

    I love reading court decision’s. I don’t think I could ever be a judge. Although I have thought about going to law school.

    Judge’s, for the most part, try really hard to understand what the heck legislatures meant.

    I love this part -

    “In comparing the words “conditions”

    and “terms and conditions” used in different sections of the unemployment-insurance

    statute are we able to discover what the legislature meant?

    4

    If “conditions” in subdivision

    3(c) includes hours, would that render the word “terms” in the phrase “terms and

    conditions” superfluous in sections where that phrase is found? What does the word “if”

    signify in subdivision 3(c)? Our review of the legislature’s inconsistent use of “terms”

    and “conditions” in the several sections of the statute now under consideration causes us

    to conclude that the meaning of the term “adverse working conditions” in subdivision

    3(c) is ambiguous.”

  • BJ

    Another great line – “Unquestionably, this court has travelled an arduous journey in arriving at a

    decision that employees who quit due to adverse changes to their employer’s unilateral

    reduction in hours need not first complain to their employer before quitting”

  • Bob Collins

    I particularly loved the footnote that seemed to find the irony in an employee calling an employer’s attention to reducing an employee’s hours, something that the employer would already know about since he/she/it is the one that reduced the employee’s hours.

  • Joanna

    The syntax! It burns!

  • BJ

    I didn’t catch that.

    You have to hand it to the lawyers at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services for getting it this far.